South America and Africa together account for two-thirds of the total forest area destroyed by wildfires. These two regions suffered a combined annual rate of net forest loss of 6.5 million hectares in 2010-2020. Chile is one of the countries most severely affected by this problem. One of the worst wildfires on record in the country in 2017 ravaged some 600,000 hectares of forest and killed 11 people. Now Chile is struggling with wildfires again, so they have brought in international help.
This year, two Super Pumas arrived in Chile through local operator Air Lama, one owned by Canadian company Horizon Helicopters, and another by Heli Austria. Their aim: to pool their resources to carry out firefighting missions in Chile.
Battling over 5,500 wildfires between 2020 and 2021
Heli Austria’s H215 was the first to touch down in the country, while the ‘FireCat’ operated by Horizon Helicopters arrived in February 2021 by boat. Both these helicopters are based at the Air Lama facility in Colina, located a few minutes from the capital city, Santiago de Chile. From there, they have been deployed in regions across the country to battle over 5,500 wildfires during 2020-2021.
“The national market in Chile doesn’t have the capacity for operators to have a helicopter of this calibre year-round to battle the flames as this affects profitability if it is only occupied for the season,” explained Xavi Vilaró, CEO of Air Lama. The company opted to bring the H215s in from Canada and Europe. “In the heavy helicopter segment, the H215 clearly leads the field in terms of the number of firefighters it can carry and its 4,000-litre water discharge capacity. It also has the longest range in its category. Our customer, CONAF, is more than satisfied”, Vilaró added.
Meanwhile, Columbia Helicopters and Aurora Flight Sciences will explore the integration of an enhanced pilot situational awareness degraded visual environment flight capability to be used for aerial fire suppression.